Working paper

The Reluctant Transformation: Modernization, Religion, and Human Capital in Nineteenth Century Egypt

Mohamed Saleh


Over the nineteenth century, Egypt embarked on one of the world's earliest state-led modernization programs in production, education, and the army. I examine the impact of this ambitious program on long-standing human capital differentials and occupational and educational segregation between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. I employ a new and unique data source, samples of the 1848 and 1868 Egyptian censuses that I digitized from the original manuscript forms, to examine this question. I find that the first wave of industrial modernization widened the religious occupational gap that was traditionally in favor of non-Muslims, but the second wave led to upward occupational mobility among both Muslims and Christians, although it did not alter the gap. Educational and military modernization, on the other hand, favored Muslims who benefited from these institutions almost exclusively, but the impact was too limited to induce a general catching-up effect. Overall, occupational and educational segregation was not attenuated by modernization, both because the traditional institutions in production and education were still the major routes for skill-acquisition, and because the new routes for mobility that modernization created were themselves segregated.

JEL codes

  • N35: Asia including Middle East
  • O14: Industrialization • Manufacturing and Service Industries • Choice of Technology

Replaced by

Mohamed Saleh, The Reluctant Transformation: State Industrialization, Religion, and Human Capital in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, The Journal of Economic History, vol. 75, n. 1, March 2015, pp. 65–94.

See also

Published in

TSE Working Paper, n. 13-434, October 2012